Kensington & Chelsea RBC needs to further bolster its senior management capacity as it seeks to recover from the Grenfell Tower fire tragedy and rebuild the community’s trust, according to the independent taskforce sent into the borough.
While there is “a severe trust deficit between the local community” and the council, the taskforce has recommended the government should revise its onerous reporting requirements in order to give the borough the chance to make changes.
Although the borough, under the leadership of chief executive Barry Quirk, is showing “green shoots of recovery”, the taskforce’s initial report, published on Monday, said: “We have met few council members that have a firm grasp of the challenges that RBKC now faces. Some members give the impression that they believe that in a few months’ time everything shall return to the way it used to be.
“Community trust of the council in the north of the borough has been eroded to such an extent that to recover from this will require a major shift in the members’ awareness and focus. From what we have seen to date, there is more that concerns us than we can take comfort from.”
The council “failed its community” on 14 June when the fire broke out “and in the weeks following”, the report said.
The borough’s response in general was “at best disjointed and seemingly rudderless”. While “front line staff and volunteers worked as hard as they could… the leadership from the council’s headquarters is most frequently described by residents as either in ‘disarray’ or ‘absent’.”
“This damming view is rarely, if ever, disputed by the other support agencies involved in the immediate response to the fire,” the report added.
It also criticised the council’s decision to terminate the contract of Kensington & Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation, which had overseen the Grenfell Tower site. “We are unconvinced that RBKC offers any better option as landlord, particularly in the medium to long term, than the offer from the TMO,” the report said.
The taskforce expressed concern the demand from government to report on a weekly basis is “adversely impacting on [the council’s] ability to deliver”.
“In addition, it risks confusing the lines of accountability, and confusing survivors and the wider community,” the report said.
However, the taskforce acknowledged the borough needs to demonstrate that it has made enough progress that any “reduction in oversight will not retard progress”.
Concern has also been raised about the borough’s resilience as the council’s “capacity and capability is stretched to the utmost”.
The taskforce has suggested the council employs someone dedicated to overseeing the recovery effort.
“The scale of the challenge is significant so we recommend the chief executive further increases the capacity within the Grenfell recovery effort with a distinct focus on the day to day personalised delivery,” the report said. “We think this should be a separate role at a senior level working across all services across the council.”
Ensuring officers and councillors have the skills required to engage with the community effectively and with empathy, and rebuild trust will require specialist support, the taskforce said.
While the council has commissioned the Centre for Public Scrutiny to conduct an independent review of its governance arrangements the taskforce thinks it should also look at the borough’s “values and culture, and include a focus on the behaviours and performance of members too”.